Mary didn’t know what to expect of this new elf-realm. She’d seen many movies and dramas with her aunt, concerning elves – Mariqah’s all-time favourite being The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Mary was always unwilling to watch such things. Both her Uncle Darim and one of her mentors, Khadir, disapproved of watching fantastical movies. They considered them a waste of time and a terrible influence. Her Aunt Mariqah had always argued that there could never be a worse influence than herself, and so little Mary was exposed to the tedium of such long footages. The fighting was good, however, so it was never too boring.
And this… This was not boring.
Amaal had hung back at The In-Betweener, after Mariqah had insisted that she would do some exploring with Mary before going to see either Lady Mercia of Greenloch or Lady Flaed of Battersea. It was clear that it had been a while since Mariqah had travelled to the realm, and she seemed taken by it.
The Grey Havens looked almost every bit like Earth with all the tall buildings and factories removed. Nature had been allowed to flourish and the peoples of the Havens lived in harmony with it. There were houses, of course. But they were widely-spaced and large – like ranch-houses – although none of the land in between looked fenced-off or owned by a specific person.
This was the Wild, Mariqah had explained. Elves who didn’t belong to a specific tribe lived independently, in the middle of the Wild.
Mary breathed in the pungent, sweet smells of nature, enjoying the fragrance of clean air and looking around the tall grass and trees, swaying in the light breeze. A few horses were grazing nearby, champing at the grass undisturbed.
“Don’t get hypnotised, Mary,” said Mariqah, “I like you as you are.”
“This place is so beautiful,” she replied, picking a dandelion.
“Mm,” her aunt nodded, “All places are beautiful. It’s people who destroy them.”
Mary creased her brow, “Only you can say something like that and make it sound true.”
Mariqah shrugged, “What can I say? I’m special.”
“Yeah,” said Mary, “really special. Like, mad special.”
“Hmm,” Mariqah turned to her, and tilted her head, “your sounding more and more like your father as the days progress. He was never good at sarcasm either.”
Mary frowned a little, “Did you know him well?”
“Oh, yes,” said Mariqah, hanging back from the path a moment to fix Mary’s hair, “before power corrupted him and authority got to his head, we were good friends. I used to do everything he told me to.”
Mary looked amused, “He ordered you about?”
“Of course. He was the leader of our little maverick group.”
“And then…” Mary paused, “And then he betrayed you all?”
Mariqah suddenly looked very old and weary, “He got less and less… involved in politics and kept disappearing. Running off to places without telling the rest of us. Having private arguments and holding private grudges. Killing private targets. And covering his tracks quite, quite awfully. He even had one of ours killed, without our knowledge, for some sort of ‘treason’. We didn’t really want him to lead us any more.”
“Well… I left. I disappeared. Only Khadir knew I was gone. And while I was on my walkabout, your father was going around arresting and killing his own people – mainly those who wouldn’t submit to his will.”
Mary sat in the grass, “But you told me that this… group, was all about free-thought and democracy. Things that the Empire and such didn’t promote.”
Mariqah sat down next to her, rolling a blade of grass between her hands, “It was. But there’s a dictator among all democrats.”
Mary paused, “Are you a democrat?”
Mariqah snorted, “God, no.”
“When the time comes, you will understand. I have no right to indoctrinate you into anything – otherwise I’d’ve done it a long time ago, but here’s my… philosophy whether you seek to accept it or not: The will of a collective people can never be fulfilled in its entirety. Democracy pleases a majority and ignores a minority – and so begs for rebellion,” Mariqah adjusted her position, “All this came to me a long time after I’d broken off from Richard and his group.”
“And you happened to be that rebellion? You know, against my father?”
“Well, naturally. But your father wasn’t running a democracy. He made a lot of enemies, by promising one thing and enforcing another.”
“He was running an dictatorship?”
“He was running a post-apocalyptic wasteland.”
“I know its hard to take in, but I can’t lie to you, Mary – your father was a good man. But he was given power he couldn’t handle which, in the end, led him to becoming a tyrant.”
“And… and my mother?”
Mariqah paused, he eyes becoming pained, “I’ve told you what you need to know about your mother. You know enough to go by. The rest is… distressing.”
Mary stared at her aunt, “It makes me wonder why you… took me in.”
“Do you want me to be honest? Or I can just not answer.”
Mary remained silent before she asked, “Tell me.”
“Because they were scared that you’d grow into the same monster as your mother and father, the group… They wanted to kill you.”
“But… but I was a baby, right?”
Mariqah looked at her, “Fear makes you see things you could never imagine on your own. Your mother and father… you shouldn’t begrudge them. They’re your parents. But the things they did…” Mariqah sighed sadly and her eyes became watery, “the things they did are things that can never be forgotten and things that can never be forgiven.”
“And I’m a result of that…?”
Mariqah paused, seeing the lost expression on Mary’s face. She gripped the younger woman’s shoulder and gave her a small smile, “You’re a result of who you choose to be. Although the actions that gave you existence were ones of treachery and filth, your actions do not necessarily have to be similar. If I could be a judge of character – and I’m not – you are a hundred times more pure than what your mother and father were.”
Mary made a confused face, “Because you raised me?”
“A lot of people raised you, Mary,” Mariqah laughed, “Growing up, you had many parents and many tutoring brothers. There wasn’t a person in that entire fortress that loved you more than your Uncle Darim. You were the closest thing he could have to a child of his own. And me? I’m just the person who takes credit for all of it.”
Mary paused, “You miss him, huh?”
Mariqah sighed and raised her head, blinking back tears, “All the time,” she sniffed and stood, helping Mary up, “Come on, we need to keep going. People are expecting us.”